Limited feeling in pinkie finger
June 1, 2006 9:45 PM   Subscribe

My left pinkie finger has been asleep for ~4 months. Should I be worried?

I can still feel it and use it, but I would say I have about 50% feeling in it. Is this the start of a more serious muscular or nervous disorder. Could it possibly spread throughout the rest of my hand or even worse, the rest of my body?
posted by 5acres to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
Talk to your doctor, four months is way beyond the point where minor concern should turn into a visit to your nearest visit.
posted by tomble at 9:50 PM on June 1, 2006

Good lord. Visit to your nearest DOCTOR. Don't visit your visit.

Stupid cut and paste.
posted by tomble at 9:50 PM on June 1, 2006

It's probably a pinched nerve. I've got the same problem in my left hand; it comes and goes.

I know exactly when it started and exactly why: one time on vacation I drove from Las Vegas to San Diego with my left elbow propped on the door, and a lump sticking into a soft spot just under the end of the radius and ulna.

The next day my left little finger was numb on the outside (away from the ring finger). Over the course of a few months the feeling came back, but it's come and gone (slowly) several times since then and right now it's a bit numb.

I can't guarantee that what's happening to you is not "the start of a more serious muscular or nervous disorder" but my guess is that it is not.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:53 PM on June 1, 2006

Could it possibly spread throughout the rest of my hand or even worse, the rest of my body?

Yes, it could, because for all you know, it could be leprosy. See a doctor yesterday.
posted by bingo at 10:03 PM on June 1, 2006

Definetly sounds like a pinched nerve. Google up "Handlebar Palsy" or "Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome"...

My feeling came back in about a month... 4 months sounds pretty bad! I would definetly see a doctor.
posted by stew560 at 10:07 PM on June 1, 2006

Yep, nerve is my bet. Ulnar palsy is what I know it as - fell asleep in the bath once & the nerve got pinched at the elbow. You might find that the outside of your ring finger is also numb...? One to two months was what it took for mine to heal.

A similar one to google is "saturday night palsy", amusingly named after drunks who would fall asleep with their arms draped awkwardly over furniture, only to find their wrists & hands not working in the morning...
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:15 PM on June 1, 2006

Sounds like a nerve issue. I had a similar problem several years back.

Okay - this is embarrassing - but I used to play a lot of Quake (Team Fortress to be exact.) Maybe two hours per day (yes I do wish I could get that time back) - after a few weeks I noticed that my pinky was numb... then several other fingers on my left hand.

I went to my family doctor and was referred to a specialist who did nerve conductivity tests (stuck needle-like electrodes in my arm around my elbow and shocked me.) The specialist discovered that I had damaged a never in my elbow. (Nerve in elbow = numbness in pinky - makes perfect sense... certainly evidence of intelligent design.)

He said my options were surgery or I could stop doing whatever I was doing that caused the damage.

Turns out the way I had my desk and keyboard setup created a lot of pressure on the underside of my elbow... it wasn't a problem normally except for when I was playing Quake for hours on end. The edge of my desk would press against my elbow - which ultimately caused the damage.

I gave up Quake and a few months later my pinky was good as new.

That said you should seek professional advice - it could be any number of scary and serious things... please go to the doctor.
posted by wfrgms at 10:27 PM on June 1, 2006

It's not impossible that it's leprosy (aka Hansen's Disease) but it's exceedingly unlikely; there are only about a hundred cases of it in the US per year. And the onset of symptoms for that disease don't fit this description.

Since it passes from human to human, you have to have been in contact with someone who had it to get it. Unless you've spent a lot of time traveling in India or Brazil recently, I think we can rule out leprosy. And in any case, 95% of the human race is genetically immune to the disease.

(Let's not scare the wits out of this person with ridiculous speculation, OK?)

For me the reason that the numbness continued for longer than a month or so was that I had certain habits which kept on repinching the nerve (e.g. the way I tended to lean my elbow against the table when I was using my computer). I had to start paying attention and work to change those habits so as to stop perpetuating the situation.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:42 PM on June 1, 2006

My thumb was asleep for about 6 months after screwing several hundred screws into my sister's floorboards to prevent squeakage. It awoke and is now normal. I agree with tomble except for the 'way', i.e. go see the doctor.

However, I also suggest you don't panic and that the chances of leprosy are extremely low.
posted by beniamino at 10:48 PM on June 1, 2006

Had the same problem, including the outside of my palm and some loss of sensation all the way to my elbow. I saw a Gp, then a neurologist, and ultimate they found absolutely nothing wrong. "squishy nerves" (the neurologists words) and a pinched nerve in my elbow were to blame.

However, I did find out that the possibilities of what it could have been range from M.S. to Leprosy. It's worth seeing a doctor.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:54 PM on June 1, 2006

Wow. I had handlebar palsy and didn't even know there was a name for it. My left pinky finger fell asleep for a couple of weeks after a long day biking downhill when I was touring in Peru. It was gripping the breaks that did it, I think. Can you think of any stress to your hand or forearm that might have caused this?
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 10:59 PM on June 1, 2006

I'm not saying that I think it actually is leprosy, although it's possible. My point is that if a part of your body starts to inexplicably go numb, you should see a doctor, because there are a whole range of possibilities that you are not going to be able to diagnose on your own (or even with the help of all of us, who, apart from not being doctors in most cases, can't physically examine your finger anyway).
posted by bingo at 11:35 PM on June 1, 2006

My left pinky and ring finger have been numb for six years.
posted by ryanissuper at 11:37 PM on June 1, 2006

I've had a numb pinky and on another occasion numb toes. They were caused by pinched nerves but in my case it was being pinched all the way back in the spine.

Have you had any back problems?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:42 PM on June 1, 2006

I also pinched my nerve once after week-long a bike trip on a lot of rough roads and cobblestones. The numbness stayed for 2 or even three months but gradually disappeared. I would advise you to go see a doctor, if only for him to tell you to wait some more.
posted by Glow Bucket at 1:11 AM on June 2, 2006

[This isn't really an answer]

Is diabetes a possibility?
posted by xanthippe at 2:39 AM on June 2, 2006

Do you regularly use a laptop keyboard?

I had a similar problem in the two smallest fingers of my left hand. I saw a doctor and we went through things that could probably cause the issue - her recommended not using a laptop keyboard - as the narrower keyboard means that your wrists flex awkwardly - I went out and bought an external keyboard and the problem went away in two/three weeks.

Now - when I go on a business trip and go back to using just my laptop - the pain comes back within three or four days, just to remind me that I need to go home and use a decent keyboard.

And, yes, you should see a doctor to get it checked out. I hope you have as easy a fix as I did.
posted by mattr at 3:52 AM on June 2, 2006

Don't be too quick to self diagnose or accept a doctor's judgement. There's a lot of different things that can happen with the arms and hands and a lot of misinformation. Physiotherapists can be good if they're on the ball - might be worth paying for a consultation.
posted by lunkfish at 4:42 AM on June 2, 2006

I had this as well, and it was diagnosed as Cubital Tunnel Syndrome. I had surgery to move the nerve in my elbow and it cleared up.
posted by genefinder at 5:16 AM on June 2, 2006

Unless you've spent a lot of time traveling in India or Brazil recently

Or handling armadillos.
posted by staggernation at 6:25 AM on June 2, 2006

I'd definitely have it checked out. Numbness in your hand or arm could be caused by anything along that nerve, including your arm, elbow, shoulder, and spine. I've known a few people who experienced numb fingers due to a herniated disc in their necks, and others who just smacked their hand against something or used a screwdriver too long. Get it checked out.
posted by mikeh at 8:50 AM on June 2, 2006

My bet is on an ulnar nerve pinch as well. I got mine from repeatedly propping my elbow on the metal bar of my chair after the cushion had popped off. The ulnar nerve controls the pinky and ring fingers; a different one serves the other two fingers and thumb. Mine started off with just my pinky, then moved to my ring finger and slowly up my arm to where only one side of my arm was numb. Mine lasted well over 8 months progressively getting worse until the doctor diagnosed it. Basically, I stopped propping my arm on the chair and it went away by itself within a couple of weeks.
posted by Ugh at 3:05 PM on June 2, 2006

Okay - this is embarrassing - but I used to play a lot of Quake (Team Fortress to be exact.) Maybe two hours per day (yes I do wish I could get that time back) - after a few weeks I noticed that my pinky was numb... then several other fingers on my left hand.

This is my exact experience.
If you want to try something before the doctor, try taking a semi-large dose (no more than 800mg (4 pills)) of ibuprofen. If that helps it, you are probably doing something bad ergonomics-wise that is causing some swelling and pinching of the nerve. Try to figure out what it is and stop.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:42 PM on June 2, 2006

I had something like this happen over the course of this past semester, only with my right ankle/foot, not my arm/hand/wrist. The outside edge of the ankle/foot became perhaps 30-40 percent numb-feeling, a condition which lasted for several months. It's gotten better now, and I think what caused it was sitting with my legs crossed for hours on end in my jobs as a newspaper editor/magazine intern. I made a conscious effort not to cross my legs, and have since started a new job where I stand almost the entire timeā€”and amazingly, the feeling in that portion of my ankle/foot has begun to come back.
posted by limeonaire at 10:15 PM on June 3, 2006

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